|You get a vote, and you get a vote ... photo courtesy KQED|
But I was interested in Columbia Crest's crowd-sourced winemaking project: not only to write a story about it two years ago, but also to be a voter in the crowd.
A brief description: Columbia Crest devoted an acre of good Cabernet vines in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills and allowed ordinary people to vote on viticultural and winemaking decisions. It's a great way to get people to feel involved in the project. What voter wouldn't be curious about how the final product tastes? I went to a Kickstarter-funded movie last week and people in the audience cheered during the credits when they saw their name roll by, and they didn't even get to help make edits.
None of the wine votes that I took part in went my way, of course.
Columbia Crest says, "You told us to harvest at night, create a wine with a lot of complexity yet soft tannins, and age it 16 months in 30% new oak barrels." I get the harvest-at-night part, but if it were up to me they would have left more fruit on the vines and picked earlier. I like "a lot of complexity" -- who doesn't? -- but achieving that with "soft tannins" requires a bit of fantasy. It's like asking for a woman with a gymnast's waist and a porn star's curves. It's all in how the questions are asked, though: Who votes for less complexity? Who votes for not-soft tannins?
Actually, I did vote for the latter. But I also voted for Bernie Sanders, so what did I expect?
This is the irony of critics: not just wine critics, and not just minor ones like myself. Robert Parker has a big fanbase because lots of people like the wines he does. His tastes are fairly extreme, though, so I doubt Parker-style wines would make it through crowdsourcing ("Shall we leave the grapes on the vines until all the moisture is gone from them and every other grape within 100 miles has been picked?")
It's the same for every media: no crowd would have chosen the plot of Breaking Bad. ("Shall Jesse's girlfriend give up drugs, or choke on her own vomit?")
In fact, according to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, you can't trust the products with the highest consumer ratings online. The crowd is, even for the crowd's taste, often wrong.
Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills Crowd Sourced Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 has a nice lifted aroma, with dried berry notes and a slight floral touch. The acidity is decent, and there's reasonable fruit. It's 14.5% alcohol, which is middle of the road in American Cabernet. The aroma is the highlight; on the palate it's a little bland. I poured myself a glass to drink, not just to taste, but I lost interest in it and didn't finish it.
My wife thinks it's a little too strong, but she's not a Cab drinker, nor did she vote on the project. The wine might be different if the voter base was all wine drinkers or all Americans, which technically it could have been, but in fact the voters self-selected: it was people interested enough in the Cabernet to take part.
At $30 a bottle, it's not a bad price for premium Washington Cabernet. It's also not a bad way to discover how mainstream your own tastes are. Parker's not mainstream, neither is Spectator: I'm not sure there is a wine critic or publication that tries to reflect mainstream tastes rather than telling people what they should be drinking. That's a critic's job, and that's important, because without them you wouldn't have seen "Breaking Bad." This is not a "Breaking Bad" wine; it's more like CNN Headline News.
If you're one of the people who voted, you might as order it from the winery.